So, Leeds… how did your #WelcomeNorwich plan work out?
To be fair, it was only a minority of Leeds’ fans who wanted the City bus to be given the Man City/Liverpool treatment, and as it transpired they were called out by the majority who preferred the white heat to be saved for inside Elland Road, but it did add a certain something to the game’s build up.
Then, through it all, there was that touching minute’s applause just before kick-off to remember our own little Sophie Taylor and Leeds supporter Toby Nye, to remind us all that it was just a game of football.
But there was no doubting the effect Spygate and City’s supposed involvement as ringleaders and desire for a points deduction – neither of which were true – were used to good effect by the Elland Road faithful to create a spitting, seething cauldron of hostility.
That by 94 minutes the place was like a half-empty church hall was testament to the job done by Daniel Farke and his men. By then it was the Yellow Army, who had been magnificent throughout, whose cheers and songs were echoing around Elland Road as they celebrated what has to be the best win of the Farke era to date.
Perspective is still important though – even in moments of euphoria – and in the same way a defeat wouldn’t have been season-defining, last night’s win hasn’t decided anything either. But what it was, was a shot across the bows of those from outside the Canary Nation who thought, and probably hoped, that this group lack the wherewithal to see the job through.
Or, as Dan O’Hagan put it…
February 2, 2019. The day Daniel Farke’s #NCFC showed any remaining doubters that they are, most emphatically, the real, glorious deal. ????
— Dan O'Hagan (@danohagan) February 2, 2019
This was the night when even the straggling doubters in yellow and green were persuaded that this group of youngsters, German journeymen and a few older heads are collectively in this promotion battle for the long haul. This was the night when we crushed the hopes and dreams of those willing us to drift off into what they see as our rightful place in the Championship order.
I mean, compared to some we haven’t the proverbial pot to pee in. We didn’t have millions to splurge in the January window. We have a team with more than a sprinkling of youngsters, partly through necessity. We have a head coach and coaching team who 20 months ago had not a clue about the brutality of the Championship. We have no billionaire benefactors. And we don’t spy.
Yet somehow, with the odds literally stacked against us, with innumerable hurdles in our way and having made ourselves the Championship’s public enemy number one, this group continue to confound.
Resilience oozes from every pore and with a calmness and assuredness that filters down to the players from Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke via every single member of their staff, even tasks that appear insurmountable are being successfully tackled head-on.
Last night was huge. Every advantage going was there, laid before Bielsa’s men, ready for them to grab and profit, but when it came down to 11 v 11 it was those in yellow and green who were able to keep their heads. For some in white, the weight of expectation was too great. They buckled.
But, most of us are not daft enough to ignore the fact we had one or two breaks last night – even if we did earn them and which feel long overdue – and for Mario Vrancic’s early free-kick to take that slight flick off the wall and land in Casilla’s top corner was the start that dreams are made of.
The Leeds pressure that followed was inevitable and, whether we like it or not, there is a pleasing fluency to the way Bielsa’s men attack when they’re in full flight. They may have lost the battle last night but they will be there when the war reaches its endgame and, to coin a phrase, there are still plenty of ups and downs to come for the current top-seven between now and May.
Yet, when the pressure came Tim Krul was offered a wall of protection by Max Aarons, Christoph Zimmermann, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis and for all the intensity, rarely did Leeds get to see the whites of Krul’s eyes.
Alioski’s volley that fizzed past the post when it probably should have nestled inside it was the closest they came and it was significant how City were gradually able to steady the ship, partly by being more authoritative and dangerous on the counter.
While afterwards, Farke commented that the high press wasn’t as synchronised and co-ordinated in the first half as he would have liked, it worked well enough for Emi Buendia to rob Forshaw in a dangerous area in the lead-up to number two. That the imperious Marco Stiepemann was able to profit was no surprise – as he did for most of the game – and when a deflected shot from Vrancic landed gloriously at the feet of Teemu Pukki, it was the stuff of dreams plus some.
From thereon in it was all about game management, something that at the start of the season City appeared not particularly adept at. Not any more.
Tom Trybull (Tree-bull if you’re employed by Sky) was magnificent in the role of protector, and with the press being more cohesive after the break it was a second-half of composure and maturity. The Leeds pressure would come – again, inevitable – but as a unit City coped without too many scares and always carried a threat on the counter.
Number three may have owed much to a deflection and inadvertent nutmeg (or two), but minus Onel Hernandez linking up beautifully with a flying, overlapping Lewis it wouldn’t have happened, and it was no more than City deserved for that second 45. It was also no more than the travelling Yellow Army had earned for refusing to be bowed by the cacophony of white noise.
Patrick Bamford’s late consolation may have taken the edge off victory for a millisecond but nothing could detract from what was a magnificent performance, matched only by the scenes of relief and gratitude at the end, as players, fans and head coach reaffirmed the ‘all for one and one for all’ ethos that has carried us this far.
So, a fantastic evening in Yorkshire but, as Farke has already made clear, nothing is decided on 2nd February, and certainly not when you’re top of the league only by virtue of goal difference. This is no time for heads to hover near the clouds and Team Farke won’t allow that, but we the fans are allowed to dream. And if you can’t bask in the glow of a win of that ilk then why follow City in the first place?
This is a good time, a special time, and against all the odds this group is defying the rule of logic. More hurdles await, starting next Sunday, but even the doubters are starting to believe. And with bloody good reason.
Before you depart, if you haven’t seen it, I’d strongly recommend giving our Connor’s interview with Stuart Webber 88 minutes of your time. It’s here, on MFW’s new YouTube channel.